Yesterday was a significant day over here at Wanderland HQ — my third travel-and-blogaversary. This post is a toast to three years of wanderlust, three years of location independent employment, and three years of pouring my heart out here on Alex in Wanderland.
This year I learned more about myself, my travel style and my professional aspirations than I ever have before. The highs were high but the lows dipped down there as well. I fell in love and said goodbye to it, I made bad business decisions, I had a minor health scare, my family lost a dear friend, and I set my sights on a new continent and realized it just didn’t fill the Southeast Asia-sized hole in my heart. Yet from breaking it down in Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade to breaking the Ramadan fast with my Indonesian neighbors, from partying in the Nevada desert for Burning Man to burning my paper mache mask during the Ecuadorian New Year, from sailing across Lake Titicaca for Puno Day in Peru to watching floats sail through New Orleans for Mardi Gras, something was always there to grab me by the shoulders and remind me how lucky I am to be alive and exploring the world.
My Year in Travels
My third year of travel kicked off stateside, where I was doing my usual bop between Albany and New York City (with a Father’s Day jaunt to Philadelphia thrown in for good measure). I wrapped up my home visit in style with a whirlwind trip to Miami to party at the iHeart Radio concert, the first group press trip I ever accepted. There I met up with my South Beach-based cousin, some of my favorite fellow bloggers… and Ke$ha. Yes, Ke$ha.
After spending six weeks in Indonesia towards the end of my second year of travel, I knew I didn’t quite have the country out of my system yet. So I returned for another round, basically repeating my original itinerary exactly: Nusa Lembongan, Gili Trawangan, Bali. However, I spiced things up with a three day trek to Mount Rinjani, taking part in a shark release, and challenging myself with a big video project. The best part of Indonesia? Sleeping in one bed for a month straight, the only time I did so all year.
In August, I jetted back to the US for eight weeks, primarily to check a major item of my bucket list: attending Burning Man. It was, true to stereotype, a life-changing experience.
Yet this was a hectic period, to say the least — aside from those ten days in the desert, I also did bridesmaid duty in Pennsylvania, checked in on my mom’s new house in Martha’s Vineyard, showed a special guest around New York, returned to Albany for a not-so-fun surgery, and prepared for my next major adventure.
My arrival in Peru marked a major milestone for me: my first time in South America, and my first real attempt at long-term travel outside Southeast Asia. I spent more than ten weeks falling for this incredibly diverse country, from the deserts to the highlands to the lush jungles, and I couldn’t even begin to list all the amazing adventures I had. I also flexed a variety of travel styles, from traveling solo to traveling with my college best friend (who came down to hike the Inca Trail with me!) to eventually traveling as a couple when Anders arrived in Cusco.
Our three and a half weeks in Ecuador had some fabulous highlights — we rang in Christmas by the beach in Montañita and New Year’s Eve in the mountain town of Baños — yet it was an unsettling time. It was here that I came to terms with the fact that I had slowly slipped into a bit of a depression, and I needed a change. Rather than continue overland, we switched gears and flew into Central America.
Panama brought me back to life. I savored my four and a half weeks in this tiny isthmus, and fantasized about snapping up a condo in Panama City and a beach house in Bocas del Toro and never leaving. Panama reminded me that tropical heat, white sand beaches, and being within reach of scuba tank are important ingredients to my ideal life. It also reignited my love for Central America — I’ve previously taken individual trips to Costa Rica, Belize, and Honduras — and I’m now itching to get back and explore more of the region soon.
7. Costa Rica
My week in Costa Rica was short and sweet — just enough time to check out the infamous beach town of Puerto Viejo, visit my high school student exchange hosts in San Jose, and catch a flight to New Orleans.
At the end of February, I returned to my homeland for a seriously long stateside stint — four and a half months without hopping an international border! Of course in that time (which will bring me into year four) I’ll take on a total of eight states, so I’m not exactly sitting still. My domestic drifting kicked off with ten days in Lousiana to visit my sister and celebrate Mardi Gras followed by two weeks in California to hit up Disneyland, attend a stylish Palm Springs wedding and visit a friend in the Bay Area.
After touching back down on the East Coast I made my way to New Jersey to speak at the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame meeting, to New York to pretend I’m still a Brooklynite, to Las Vegas for a girl’s weekend with my oldest friend, to Philadelphia to visit my dad, to Lake George to watch the first of my high school friends get hitched, and of course to my hometown of Albany to catch my breath a few times between. Phew! I then returned to Las Vegas again for an adrenaline-filled trip with Visit Nevada, and to Hawaii for the fabulous #seeMaui adventure.
But yes, for the third year in a row, I’m celebrating my travelversary from the familiar shores of the good old USA — this time, from my new home away from home in Martha’s Vineyard. In less than a month again I’ll be taking off again on another major journey, but for now I’m enjoying letting my passport cool off for a bit while I explore my own backyard.
My Year in Numbers
Countries Visited: 6
New Countries Visited: 3 (Down one from last year, but bringing my grand total to 23!)
States Visited: 9
Plane Rides Taken: 23 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, four were basically free thanks to points, six were paid for by work, five were under $100 each, and the remaining eight inspired me to keep chasing the travel hacking dream.
Tents Slept In: 4, for a total of 14 nights.
Beds Slept In: 71. Of those, 27 were hostels, 19 were hotels, 6 were guesthouses, 2 were motels, 11 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were jungle lodges, one was a national park ranger station, one was a cruise ship cabin, and one was an apartment I rented.
Dives: 22. This is less than half the amount I managed the past two years. Bummer, but not bad considering I wasn’t working in the industry and I wasn’t traveling in dive heavy destinations. In fact, more than half of these dives were done in my one month in Panama. I’m hoping this number will be way higher next year.
Conferences Attended: 2, The New York Travel Fest in New York and Beneath The Sea in New Jersey.
Weddings Attended: 3, in Pennsylvania, Palm Springs, and Lake George.
Posts Written: 235. Up eight from last year.
Comments Responses Left: 3,038.
Dollars Spent: Roughly $25,000. That number doesn’t necessarily represent straight travel costs — it also includes several thousand dollars in business expenses like my taxes, the money I lost to a site design scam, and the money I’ve put aside for a real new site design. But this was the year that things really turned around for me, financially — I netted an overall profit instead of a loss for the first time!
My Year in Blogging
This year was a major turning point for me in my pursuit of a location independent lifestyle — I turned a profit! For the past two years, overall I’ve spent more than I earned and made up the difference by dipping into my savings. This year, I almost doubled both my income and my bottom line in my bank accounts. Blogging profit — made up of sponsored content, affiliate sales, and brand partnerships — made up 61% of my earnings, with freelance writing, graphic design, and video work making up the final 39%. The recent months have been a tumultuous time for many bloggers, myself included, as Google algorithm updates have dried up my primary income source and forced me to seriously reevaluate how I make my money. But looking at how much I’ve accomplished in the past year gives me hope that I can survive the changing tides.
But hey, no one gets into blogging to get rich, right? (Well, at least they shouldn’t.) That’s just a means to keep moving. What really makes my heart beat faster are things like starting new series such as Earning Abroad and Becoming a Divemaster and seeing what wonderful feedback they get, being named a Viator Ambassador and working with brands I believe in, being invited on trips alongside my blogging mentors, and doubling my unique monthly visitors and monthly page views to 28,000 and 110,000, respectively. I’ve experimented with my writing and photography styles this year, trying out posts that are more factual or more philosophical than my usual travel tales, and your continued support and constructive feedback while I keep finding my voice has meant so much to me.
Above all, I am still incredibly humbled by the fact that anyone comes to spend part of their day here with me, and honored that so many take the time to reach out in response. One example of a gratifying moment I’ve had was meeting with a long time reader who had a ticket to Southeast Asia when my posts on the Banana Bungalow caught her eye and caused her to change her flight. A year later, she hasn’t left Maui. That really blew my mind in the most wonderful kind of way. I think back to the first travel blog I discovered and how that changed my life, and things get a little emotional up in here. I promise not to break into a rendition of kumbaya, guys, but I’m seriously moved by the community that has developed in Wanderland and the way things have come full circle. Other bloggers have actually commented to me that I have the best and most passionate readers on the interwebs, and I couldn’t agree more.
But at the same time — my honeymoon with self employment is over. With the excitement of turning a profit came the realities of paying taxes, making bad business decisions, and occasionally getting in seriously over my head. Yes, I look back on this year and I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness for all the literal and figurative mountains I climbed, the exotic places I watched the sun rise and set from, and all the opportunities that came my way. But I’m also overwhelmed with how overwhelmed I was, and how subtly but significantly my work/travel/life balance fell out of sync. I had to remind myself more than once that I didn’t strike out on my own in order to stay up all night weeping over my out of control to-do list, or snap at my loved ones because I can’t take the heat. Getting my priorities refocused and my balance back on track is one of my major goals moving forward.
Out of 235 posts, these were some of my favorite of the year.
The Road is Life • The Pursuit of Happiness • The Cost of Burning Man • Let’s Talk: How Much Drinking is Too Much Drinking? • Let’s Talk: Can you Make Local Friends? • How Citibank Screwed Me
Goals for Year Four
Looking forward, I’m no longer paralyzed with fear that I won’t be able to sustain my travels financially. But I do have concerns that I won’t be able to sustain them emotionally, if I don’t make a few changes. And thus my goals are:
• To bring more spontaneity back into my travels.
• To work smarter, develop office hours, and find more effective ways to manage stress and expectations.
• To return to Southeast Asia.
• To slow down my travel pace in order to reflect the fact that I am not just a carefree backpacker, I am running a business from the road.
• To find a more significant way to give back to both the communities I visit on my travels and the community I’ve built here.
Putting together this post and the hours of reflection and introspection it has inspired has left me filled with hope and gratitude. I still hold dear the belief that helped me leap out into the world unknown on June 9th, 2011 — travel has the power to be transformative. Where will I be on June 9th, 2015 — not just physically, but in my heart and mind?
Know that wherever you are in the world, I’m toasting to you right now. Alex in Wanderland wouldn’t be what it is without you, whether you’re one of my most active commenters (love you guys!) or someone who checks in silently every once in a while (but please feel welcome to say hi!).